On the Spot: Olivette Otele

We ask leading historians 20 questions on why their research matters, one book everyone should read and their views on the Tudors ...

Olivette Otele
Why are you a historian of the British and French Empires?
Those stories of conquest, subjugation and collaboration teach us about human nature: greed, power and our ability to overcome adversity.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?
Kindness: we exist because many before us have survived hardship and have chosen to share their space, resources and stories. And humility as a scholar: we very rarely discover anything but reinterpret and add to palimpsests.

Which book has had the greatest influence on you?
Nations nègres et culture by Cheikh Anta Diop.

What book in your field should everyone read?
The Bible, the Quran and the Communist Manisfesto.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?
Now is a good place for me as a scholar and a black woman.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?
Elikia M’Bokolo: an outstanding historian, a rigorous researcher, a kind man with a great sense of humour.

What foreign languages do you speak?
European: French and English and a bit of German. I read Spanish and Portuguese. African languages: Ewondo, Eton and Boulou.

What’s the point of counterfactualism?
None.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?
Anna Julia Cooper, an African-American teacher and activist.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?
Memory studies.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?
Psychohistory.

Which genre of history do you like least?
Psychohistory.

Is there a major historical text you have not read?
There are many of them. I buy history books all the time but I do not always have time to read them.

What’s your favourite archive?
Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer (France) and National Archives (UK).

What’s the best museum?
I have five favourites: the Benedictine Museum of Mont-Febe (Yaoundé), V&A (London), Espace Dalí and Petit Palais (both in Paris), MUCEM (Marseille).

Tudors or Stuarts?
Tudors and Oyo Empire.

Normans or Anglo-Saxons?
Normans.

Rome or Athens?
Rome.

Cromwell or Charles I?
I would rather choose Owain Glyndŵr.

Braudel or Gibbon?
Marc Bloch.

Olivette Otele is Reader in History at Bath Spa University, researching transnational history and the link between history, collective memory and geopolitics in relation to British and French colonial pasts. Her book, Afro-Europeans: a Short History, is forthcoming from Hurst.

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